Commentary: Leave out women in the halal certifying industry at your own peril
This commentary is written by Dr. Umar Dar, MD, CEO of Canada-based Tuesday in Love Halal Nail Polish and Cosmetics. It is part of Salaam Gateway’s International Women's Day 2020 series that is co-designed and curated by Nyra Mahmood, MD of UK-based Simply Sharia Human Capital (SSHC LTD), the publishers of the 2016 report "Women in Islamic Finance & Islamic Economy”.
Islamic history teaches us a great deal of the numerous contributions made by women to society. From the earliest recorded times of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH), we see that women were active not only in the home, but as well as in business, politics, medicine, and various forms of engineering.
Even more specifically, the value of their advisory was taught to Muslims by the example of the prophet’s wives who would be consulted by him on various occasions. However, here in the year 2020, when information and technology are abundant, and the accessibility of communication is almost trivial, it’s surprising to see that women have often been left out, and their advisory overlooked, in the processes of deliberation and decision-making within various Islamic institutions.
One of these specific areas of deliberation is halal certification.
Across North America, the number of men sitting on the advisory councils of halal certifying bodies far outnumbers the number of women. This is a matter of concern not only for the sake of equality in representation, but also because it is perhaps one of the most foolish mistakes to make both economically, and from the perspective of social benefits.
WOMEN CONTROL PURSE STRINGS
If money makes the world go round, then women are sitting at the controls of this powerful machine. Within the last decade, the purchasing power of the average home has increased to almost double because of the increased number of women adding to household incomes.
With more women in the workforce worldwide, more and more purchasing decisions amongst families has been made by women in almost every category of retail. Whether it be real estate, family vehicles, vacations, food, appliances, or any personal or home accessory, women have dominated the decision making in almost all aspects because they are often the ones that understand the needs of each family member the most.
For this reason, many companies have created their products and advertising campaigns around the needs of women and structured their design and production process around creating a better buying experience for women. Variables such as color, packaging, compactness, price, accessibility, and overall value are all being modified and perfected solely on the advice and needs of female customers.
So why has the halal industry overlooked this fundamental element of its market and key demographic?
If women are the primary purchasing consumers when it comes to halal food, cosmetics, banking, or any other industry that requires some kind of halal certification, then would it not make sense to have women help create the formal structures of this process?
From an economic perspective, halal certification adds cost to any product that requires it, and at the end of the line, the consumer has to pay for this additional cost. Therefore, understanding how this cost affects your consumer would be key in helping streamline this process without losing overall quality of the final product.
But not all consumers are created equal.
There are Muslim women who are professionals in the workforce, stay-at-home mothers, working mothers, single mothers, or even a combination of these.
Therefore how they perceive overall value of halal products will also vary within these subgroups. For example, a professional woman may prefer halal meat from an organic source that’s free range and antibiotic free, and would be willing to pay the premium price for such selection.
However, a single mother of three working two jobs may not have the luxury of paying a higher premium, and thus needs accessibility to halal meat that should still meet certain quality standards. If there’s no variation in the halal certifying process to accommodate the price variables, then it may create a lack of accessibility and affordability for those with lower incomes.
This is just one example of the types of problems that need to be considered by halal certifying agencies.
However, there are many more that may arise and are unaccounted for.
‘MOST MEN DON’T WEAR NAIL POLISH’
From our personal experience at Tuesday in Love, when we created our halal nail polish, we set the halal standard for our nail polish to be fully water permeable compared to competitor brands that were “breathable”. It wasn’t until we explained the science of its functionality to various scholars that people began to understand that breathable brands of polish weren’t really useful for the purposes of wudhu.
However, we still see many imams and Islamic scholars unaware of the differences and still willing to hand out certifications without fully understanding the implications.
Now this may also be due to the fact that most men don’t wear nail polish and therefore don’t understand how this technology benefits women.
Thus, having women on a halal certifying body would be of great benefit because they would not only appreciate the functionality of design, but might also put forth more insightful objections and questions based on their understanding of cosmetics, hence forcing cosmetics brands to create valid evidence for their claims.
Women also have a better understanding of how products like make-up and nail polish have an emotionally beneficial function. We can’t even count the number of women who have said they were overjoyed to find out that Tuesday in Love made a nail polish that they could finally wear. And for our sisters who have reverted to Islam, their happiness when discovering our line of halal cosmetics is even more dear to us because they often thought they had to give up something they loved forever.
NO SHORTAGE OF TALENTS
The solution to this dilemma of not having enough women on halal certifying boards can be made very simple. It’s a matter of communication.
The number of Muslim women who are outstanding in their fields is almost astronomical. There is absolutely no shortage of brilliant minds amongst our communities that can be reached at the click of a button.
Islamic scholars such as Ustadha Ieasha Prime and Saara Sabbagh, political activists such as Linda Sarsour and Malala Yousafzai, professional athletes such as Ibtihaj Muhammad (Olympic bronze medalist in Fencing) and Kubra Dagli (Taekwondo world champion) , media moguls such as Laila Alawa (editor in chief of The Tempest) and Amani al-Khatahtbeh (editor in chief of Muslimgirl), and scientists and engineers such as Anousheh Ansari (Iranian born Muslim astronaut) are all but a tip of the iceberg of this enormous treasure we have in our community.
Our male Muslim scholars need but to simply reach out to any one of them and ask them to join and share their valuable insights and feedback with the respect they deserve.
The process of creating an organized and economically functional halal certifying body is no easy task.
With countless numbers of variables including costs, traditions, laws, and accessibility, it is a difficult game of balance and strategic maneuvering to achieve a successful outcome for all parties. But with any game of strategy, the ones who are most successful are the ones who rely on and utilize their most powerful player – the queen.
Commentary: How much does the Islamic economy embrace gender diversity and inclusion?
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Dr. Umar Dar